How Far Can Life Cycle Assessment Be Simplified? A Protocol to Generate Simple and Accurate Models…

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Life cycle assessments (LCAs) quantify environmental impacts of systems and support decision-making processes. LCAs are however time-consuming and difficult to conduct for nonexperts, thus calling for simplified approaches for multicriteria environmental assessments.

In this paper, a five-step protocol is presented to generate simplified arithmetic equations from a reference parametrized LCA model of an energy system and its application illustrated for an enhanced geothermal system for heat generation with very low direct emissions in continental Europe. The simplified models estimate seven environmental impacts (climate change, freshwater ecotoxicity, human health, minerals and metals, and fossil resources depletion, and acidification) based on six technological parameters: number of injection and production wells, power of the production and injection pump, average well length, thermal power output, and eight background parameters defining the European electricity mix.

A global sensitivity analysis identified these parameters as influencing the variance of the environmental impacts the most. Ensuring the representativeness of the reference LCA model and the validity of the simplified models requires thorough assessment. This protocol allows to develop relevant alternatives to detailed LCAs for quick and multicriteria environmental impact assessments of energy systems, showing that LCAs can be simplified to system-specific equations based on few, easily quantified, parameters.

Read the paper on the GEOENVI simplified models published in Environmental Science and Technology.